Academies believe admission change won't hurt minorities

May 12, 2007|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,sun reporter

The Defense Department has proposed eliminating a written policy that gives "primary consideration" to women and minorities for admission to preparatory schools affiliated with the nation's service academies.

But the change may have little effect, defense officials and Naval Academy alumni say, because those institutions have established what they believe is a legal way to give consideration to race and ethnicity in admitting applicants.

"I don't think it will hurt that much in getting minorities in," said Jim Jackson, a former academy admissions officer who now helps recruit minorities at Anne Arundel Community College.

Jackson said yesterday that efforts to boost minority enrollment at the service academies were conceived in the late 1960s. "There are so many talented students that could go directly that I think the impact is going to be only minor."

The prep schools for the Navy, Army and Air Force are known as a vehicle to enable minorities, athletes and enlisted personnel to prepare for the challenging academic programs they will undertake at the academies, which all but guarantee admission to those in the one-year programs who earn a grade-point average of 2.0 or higher.

Officials from the Air Force General Counsel's office initiated the proposed policy revision, asking the Pentagon to strike one paragraph from its 1994 policy on admissions to the service academy preparatory schools, which orders that women and minorities should get "primary consideration for enrollment" to the preparatory schools.

Air Force officials believed that directive "could impair the Service Academies' ability to defend admissions standards that are, in fact, consistent with their respective institutional academic needs and the Supreme Court case law," according to a written statement provided to The Sun.

The Defense Department has complied with the Air Force's request in proposing the change, but it also believes the academies can still "give priority to minorities," said Maj. Stewart Upton, a Pentagon spokesman.

After the Supreme Court in 2003 narrowly upheld the right of public colleges to consider race in admissions decisions - finding that it could be a factor but not a "deciding factor" - the service academies have vehemently defended admissions policies they say are meant to build an officer corps that reflects the U.S. population and the enlisted ranks.

The student population at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., is composed of 40 percent minorities, compared to 22.6 percent at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Of the approximately 1,200 freshmen admitted annually, about 20 percent come from the prep school.

"The U.S. Naval Academy is a national institution that is reflective of the Nation it serves and the Naval Service of which it is a part," Deborah Goode, an academy spokeswoman, said in a written statement, adding that the school's admissions standards follow the law. "We must consider candidates who bring experiences and diversity from across the Nation; candidates whose backgrounds cross all racial, gender, ethnic, socio-economic, religious and geographic lines."

Bruce Fleming, an English professor at the academy who spent a year on its admissions board, said he believes the school's method "is illegal," based on the 2003 Supreme Court ruling, because "minorities are considered separately and are let in using criteria specific to them."

He said African-American, Hispanic or American Indian students are often deemed "qualified" by the board with a lower academic record "that would not win a vote of `qualified' for a majority student."

Still, Fleming believes the decision will bring little "ultimate change" to the system. Many of the minorities at the preparatory school are also recruited athletes, he said, and can be brought to the school for that reason rather than any racial preference.

Further, he said, most minority students are admitted to the academy directly, "so unless that is also up for grabs, that part won't change."

bradley.olson@baltsun.com

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